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All I needed to learn about anti-bullying, I learned when my daughter went to kindergarten.

My schooling began with a phone call from her teacher, "Ms. Una, I'm calling to let you know that Zuna had an encounter with Korax today."

I respond, "Oh dear. Is she okay?"

He responds, "Well, yes, she's not hurt. In fact, she's more than okay. Can I tell you what she did?"

Apparently, Korax, the class bully, had finally gotten around to Zuna. It's a Montessori classroom and quite often the children work sitting on mats on the floor. Zuna was sitting on the floor when Korax came over and stomped on her leg.

In response, Zuna looked him in the eye and demanded to know, "Why did you do that?!" She wouldn't let him walk away without answering her question. The high energy conversation caught the attention of the teacher and they were taken to a room for reconciliation.

In the room, Zuna told the teacher what had happened and said that she wanted to know why Korax had stomped on her. She wouldn't allow the conversation to continue until he answered. Finally, Korax said, "I didn't like the way you spoke to me before. It was bossy."

Zuna replied, "So, why didn't you just tell me you didn't like it?"

Korax pouted with arms crossed and furrowed brows for a bit. Zuna pressed the question over and over until he mumbled, chin to chest, eyes toward the floor, "because I didn't think you would listen to me."

Zuna reached out, gently rested her hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye and said, "I promise that if you have something to say, I'll listen, if you promise not to hurt me."

Silence. But she kept her hand gently resting on his shoulder. Until he looked up and said, "Okay, I promise. I didn't like that bossy way you talked to me."

Zuna replied, "Ok."

Then she said, "Korax, I don't think you want to be so mean. I don't think you're mad. I think you're sad." And she gave him a big hug. She held him until he hugged back.

Though Korax continued to struggle with his bullying tendencies, he and Zuna were great friends after that. He never hurt her again. Even after he left the school, he continued to come to her birthday parties and it was like a grand reunion.

The teacher said he had never seen anything like it.

I learned a few things from Zuna back then. (She's 11 now.)

Zuna had had months to observe how Korax had been with everyone. At age 6, he was already a master of covert intimidation, as well as physical violence. It's her nature to sit back and take it all in. So, she had watched how others responded. I don't know that any of her response was consciously thought of ahead of time, or just an intuitive ability to find a different way to handle things.

Here are what I see as the keys to what transformed her relationship from potentially bully/victim to friendship:

1. She never behaved like a victim. The teacher noted that she never whined about her leg or spoke in a tone of fear. Instead she made it clear her feelings were hurt while simultaneously asserting that she deserved an explanation.

2. She never demanded that he apologize. Her demand for an explanation was for the purpose of finding a new way to be together, not to shame him into an apology.

3. She never got angry with him. She was indignant, but not behind a wall of anger.

4. She seemed to know that he wasn't just evil. That, in his mind, he had some reason for his behavior. He feared something.

5. She listened when he answered her question.

6. She didn't try to tell him he why he shouldn't have felt the way he did. She never corrected him.

7. She offered him something to allay his concerns, an alternative path to follow together.

8. She never gave up on him. She reached out for the boy behind the bully and the boy reached back.

Something that struck me about the way she approached this was that far from feeling that she was the victim, she actually saw him as the broken one. She knew that something must be wrong for him to be behaving this way. (What she couldn't have known at the time is that his father was an active alcoholic and his was not a happy home.) Far from demanding something from him - an apology or a promise to stay away, for instance - she offered him something first. "I promise I'll listen...." After she had secured a sense of trust, she then offered her insight into what was going on with him, "I don't think you're mad. I think you're sad." And she didn't expect him to affirm that. They didn't have to talk more about it. She didn't expect it to change. She just kind of let him know what she saw and that she could be there with that.

Zuna has this way about her. She sees past bad behaviors. She doesn't ignore them, trust me! As her mom, I very aware of my character flaws, yet she conveys her observations in such a way that I feel loved even as she's critiquing me. I never get the sense that she's judging or would stop caring. She never stops seeing that there is an entire person who is more than the current bad behavior.

So much that I know about compassionate, fiercely assertive, non-violent conflict resolution, I learn from her.

I offer some of her teachings to you.

Originally posted to UnaSpenser on Wed Jun 29, 2011 at 08:10 PM PDT.

Also republished by J Town, Street Prophets , and Community Spotlight.

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